Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Parshat Ki Tavo

Feeding the Dead

The beginning of this week's parsha deals with the bringing of the Bikkurim, the first fruits, to the Temple.

The Bikkurim were holy products and like all sacrifices, they would be illegible if they became defiled. Therefore, the Israelite farmer who brought the Bikkurim, had to make a declaration that the fruits were acceptable.

Part of the statement that he had to make included: "I did not eat any of it [second tithe] while in my mourning, nor did I consume any of it while unclean; neither did I not give of it to the dead. I obeyed the Lord, my God" (Devarim 26:14).

Most of the statement makes sense, but it is hard to understand the concept of not giving of it to the dead.

Modern scholars argue that this practice was a throwback from Israel's sojourn in Egypt. Egypt's religion was obsessed with death. Kings and important officials spent their entire lives preparing for their death. They built splendid tombs that contained all that they would need in their after-life, including their slaves and wealth. They also provided with food.

The ancient world believed that the living could assist the spirits of the dead on their journey if they provided them with food. Therefore, it is claimed that the Israelites would make holes in tombs and would regularly lower food down into them. They would then re-use the food later.

This food is defiled and even though it amy be consumed, it is illegible for holy use.

Some modern scholars even claim that these foods were used as sacrifices to the dead.

However, Judaism vehemently opposes the cult of the dead. Indeed, the dead are considered to be defiled and as we saw in the declaration, even a mourner's food is ineligible for God.

Therefore, the classical Jewish commentators, such as Rashi and Sephorno, argue that this produce was used in the burial of the dead, perhaps to provide clothing for the dead or as wreath on a coffin.

Judaism is a religion of life – and sees no glory in death. Death is the height of defilement. Whilst there are times that we must sacrifice ourselves for a greater cause, these occasions are few and far between. We do not train our children to martyr themselves nor do we promise them glorious rewards for giving up their lives. On the contrary, we do our outmost to protect them and ensure that they survive.

We believe in life. This is our strength and this is why the Jewish people still live.

Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat Ki Tavo entiled: "The Mountain of Curse", appears at

Another Sedra Short on Parshat Ki Tavo entiled: "The Return to Egypt", appears at

A further Sedra Short on Parshat Ki Tavo entiled: "The Tochecha", appears at

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